Oklahoma experiences higher rates of killings by police and of police than almost every other state, and mistrust between law enforcement and minority communities remains high. Improving public safety in the state will require law enforcement agencies and communities to rebuild trust in one another, and that process will take time.
It will require efforts on several fronts. Policy changes that recognize and address legitimate concerns about racial discrimination and officer use of force are a critical show of good faith and can help establish norms and accountability for officers. Those changes must be backed by training that give officers the tools and practice they need to follow them and be more effective in their jobs. Agencies should also endeavor to foster an environment that values diversity and is well-equipped to handle the pressures of a difficult and dangerous job. Finally, agencies should embrace the opportunity to collect and publish data to help them understand where they stand and how they compare to other agencies on measures like use-of-force and racial disparities.
Jurisdictions across the country have made progress on this issue, and our state can, too.
All stakeholders have a role to play in this process. State and local elected officials must be willing to listen to all sides and to continually push both law enforcement leadership and communities towards one another. They must listen to the concerns and needs of each and use their positions to facilitate understanding between them. They should also look outside the state to other jurisdictions that are having success and proactively learn from them.
Law enforcement agencies and their leaders must be open to listening to their communities’ concerns and willing to shift their posture towards their community if necessary. Most agencies already have admirable outreach programs that could be built upon, and many already work to hire diverse workforces. Agencies should continue to advocate for the resources to implement new ideas and make honest assessments of how they’re working.
All Oklahomans have the responsibility to advocate for law enforcement policy and practice that puts the highest priority on the safety of both officers and the public. The available evidence suggests that achieving that means more outreach and efforts to build trust, and less emphasis on aggressive tactics. By fostering a better relationship between communities and law enforcement, we can make Oklahoma a safer place.
This report was produced with support from the Arnall Family Foundation.